The Austin Chronicle

City to Mount Case for Appraisal Protest in 2015

By Amy Smith, June 20, 2014, News

Acknowledging they'd be hard-pressed to meet a June 17 deadline to challenge this year's commercial appraisal values, City Council members early last Friday agreed to wage a challenge next year. The decision came at the end of a lengthy meeting that started last Thursday morning and ended at 3:30am Friday.

The Council voted 7-0 to hire an appraiser and other experts to start gathering evidence of undervalued commercial properties to present to the Travis Central Appraisal District when the city files a challenge in 2015. "We are still moving forward," Council Member Kathie Tovo said in making the change to her original proposal to file a challenge this year. Travis County Commis­sion­ers nixed a similar proposal last week but made no plans to mount a case next year, opting instead to study the matter.

Tovo said after learning that the city would need to pay $150,000 to $300,000 to present a case for which there was little time to prepare, she agreed a delay would help "lay the groundwork for next year."

Council Member Laura Morrison credited residents for their work in calling for changes to a state appraisal system that shifts a greater share of the property tax burden onto homeowners. "You can't make real change without the community and the people crying for that change," she said. "The issue has caught fire."

Council also voted 7-0 to designate property tax law reform a priority on the city's 2015 legislative agenda.

But the Council wasn't unanimous on a third related resolution from Tovo – to establish policy that would require companies seeking tax incentives from the city not to protest their property appraisals. That one passed on a 5-2 vote, with Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Member Bill Spelman dissenting. Leffingwell said such a requirement would hurt the city's economic development efforts, and Spelman said that as someone who has protested his own property assessment, he didn't want to deny someone else the same opportunity. Clerical errors and other mistakes can and do happen in the appraisal process, he said.

Proposed language for the tax incentive policy will be presented to Council in late August.

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